My modelling journey began with me dancing around Covent Garden with my friends. I was 14 years old and modelling was far from my young mind, which was busy being occupied with school and generally being a bit of an idiot. When I say ‘I was dancing’, I was quite literally dancing along with a street busker when a woman approached me from a top London modelling agency. For me, modelling was this big, exciting new world, and the woman was so ‘entranced’ by my ‘look’, (or so she said), that I immediately took her card and agreed to call the agency later that day. The woman was kind and approachable, and she clearly thought I had potential, so why not pursue it?
I’m not going to name any of the agencies I was signed with or was scouted by, because in writing this, I’m not trying to tarnish anyone or prevent girls from signing with certain agencies. Everyone’s experience is different. However, I just want young people to be cautious; don’t be an open and vulnerable book when entering an agency, like I was, because it is so easy to be manipulated on the promise of ‘world wide’ success. This particular agency kept in contact with me for a couple of years as I was too young to start immediate work at 14. However, with age, comes a maturing of the body: my boobs got fuller, my hips widened, and I no longer had the svelte, slender body of a child. This was a completely natural process, and yet I was made to feel as though my body was wrong and all of these changes were defects that I had personal responsibility for. It began simply with measuring my hips every couple of weeks; I can’t describe the dread I would feel at entering a room full of adults, at the age of 14, and being told my body was completely wrong. Then came the comments about eating the right food, drinking, and exercise, and basically losing all of my ‘puppy fat’. If I could lose a few inches on my hips, I would be in Paris next month. I was 14, and I was so desperate to be wanted by this big agency, that I completely threw myself into changing how I looked. I recently found a letter that I had written to my future self whilst at school, it read “have you lost that weight on your thighs yet?”. It physically pains me to imagine a 14 year old girl being so disgusted by her own body, and focusing so much on her self image, when my letter should have asked about my mental aspirations and my achievements.
I eventually realised that this was a poisonous path of self destruction and decided that my education was a priority for me over modelling. I lost contact with the agency and began life as a normal teenage girl again. This was until the age of 17. My long-standing depression got worse at the age of 17, and I lost a vast amount of weight due to anxiety. It was at this time that I was scouted yet again by an even bigger London agency. It was the same routine, a lovely woman approached me with promises of international acclaim and incredible modelling opportunities. I was immediately under her spell, and visited the agency with my parents a few days later. I met the directors of the agency who were ‘enamoured with my look’, and actually signed me on the spot- under the premise that I would lose a few inches off my hips.
At the time, they made it seem so simple: a few inches off and I would be an international model. I was put on a strict diet of vegetables, (without any dressing), fish, (no meat as it was too fatty), no carbs and lots of water. My depression had already caused me to reach a size 36/37inch hip, and so I only needed to lose a few more pounds. Except it was never that easy. I was assigned a very much unwanted nutritionist, who I refused, and put on an exercise regime of bikram yoga 4 times a week. Bikram yoga is 90 minutes of yoga performed in a boiling hot room, the excessive sweating causes you to lose a lot of weight. My first session, I actually blacked out from lack of food and nutrition, and yet I persevered. I was going over 4 times a week, which apparently wasn’t enough, as well as attending the gym. I would then go to the agency and parade around the whole team in my underwear, only to be judged and mocked. I distinctly remember one of the directors saying I reminded her of a young Constance Jablonski, but “much, much rounder”. I was a size 6/8 and 5’10.5. My BMI was underweight, and my obsession with food was so horrific that I counted how many calories were in a piece of chewing gum.
I was with that agency for about a year before I realised that I was destroying myself. I hadn’t practised any self-love since the age of 14, and my body was crippled with self-loathing and sadness. In the end, I chose me. The agency had stopped me from going to the gym as I was getting too muscular, and instead upped my yoga classes. My phone was filled with daily notes of my calorie intakes, every single item that touched my lips was accounted for. My goal was to eat less than 600 calories a day. I feel like I was abused and taken advantage of by these people, who were entirely aware of my mental health struggles. I was completely lost, and I was a ghost of my former self. My mum, who had been against modelling from the beginning, but hadn’t wanted to deny me my dreams, actually feared for my life. Seeing this destruction that I had created around me and within myself, I finally decided enough was enough. I left the agency.
That was probably one of the greatest achievements of my life. Choosing my life. My body is not simply an object to be manipulated, and pulled ,and judged. It is my home, and my home alone. I used to dread looking down and seeing no thigh gap between my legs, but now when they touch, I actually feel whole. I have never been overweight, and my thighs have touched naturally from the age of about 13, and I can finally embrace my natural shape. Nobody should be made to feel that they are not good enough for some societal expectation ordained by people who wouldn’t know self-worth if it smacked them in the face. I am furious, completely furious, that for 5 years of my life, I allowed someone else to dictate my decisions and choices. I’m not sure how much I weigh now, or how many calories I eat in a day, and god, does it feel good. I am perfectly me and I love every single roll and dimple on my body. It shows that I have lived, not merely existed.